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Bye-bye recycling
Ethical Corner by Portfolio Manager Tim Starke

Ethical Corner

​​​​Australia is a proud nation of recyclers, with each Aussie recycling more than a tonne a year. But could recent policy changes in China change this?​​

Although China seems a world away, recent policy changes around recyclable waste are already impacting everyday Australians. In April, Queensland’s Ipswich council announced it would be sending recycling straight to landfill. Here in Victoria, Maroondah Council increased bin rates by 26 per cent to $324.

For the last 10 – 15 years, China has been processing Australia’s recycling, along with millions of other container loads from across the globe. In 2017, Chinese citizens began protesting against the environmental pollution caused by processing activities, demanding action towards better practices. The resulting Chinese policy changes include a strict 0.05 per cent contamination tolerance in recyclable waste, something experts say is almost impossible to achieve. As a result, local Australian councils are faced with rising costs from waste service providers.

Although the Andrews government has paid $13 million to cover local council expenses in Victoria, this funding will cease in June. Councils will soon have to decide how to move forward, and households are likely to foot the bill. Looking longer term, could Australia’s move to a circular economy be the answer?

Linear today, circular tomorrow?

A circular economy can be simply explained as having a “circle of life” approach to production. It focuses on keeping resources in use for as long as possible, recovering and regenerating products at the end of their life cycle. Although this sounds simple, it isn’t something we can achieve overnight.

In a recent article in sustainability newspaper The Fifth Estate, One Planet Consulting Principal Helen Millicer describes five steps that we would need to take as a society:

  • Change what we buy and select long-life products and packaging.

  • Renew action to ensure products and packaging are designed for recycling and repair.

  • Include disposal costs of products and packaging in the purchase or disposal price.

  • Specify recycling content and repair in both government and industry procurement and tenders.

  • Develop government and industry strategies and partnerships for a circular economy in Australia.​

​Although these steps could take years to implement, we are pleased to see some companies already taking action. Currently a part of our portfolios, packaging company Amcor has pledged that all of its packaging will be recyclable and reusable by 2025. Encouragingly, more than 10 leading brands and retail companies have now made the same commitment. 

We hope this move results in more companies following suit and taking their whole life cycle environmental impact into consideration.

As we see recycling as a positive industry to invest in, UCA Funds Management will continue to monitor the topic and seek companies following similar action.